48. The Provisional Settlement
The atmosphere was thus becoming favourable for a settlement. Sir Benjamin Robertson, who had been sent by Lord Hardinge in a special steamer, was to arrive about the same time that Mr. Andrews and I went to Pretoria. But we did not wait for him and set out as we had to reach Pretoria on the day fixed by General Smuts. There was no reason indeed to await his arrival, as the final result could only be commensurate with our strength.
Mr. Andrews and I reached Pretoria. But I alone was to interview General Smuts. The General was preoccupied with the railway strike, which was so serious in nature, that the Union Government had declared martial law. The European workmen not only demanded higher wages, but aimed at taking the reins of government into their hands. My first interview with the General was very short, but I saw that he today did not ride the same high horse as he did before, when the Great March began. At that time the General would not so much as talk with me. The threat of Satyagraha was the same then as it was now. Yet he had declined to enter into negotiations. But now he was ready to confer with me.
The Indians had demanded that a member should be co-opted to the commission to represent Indian interest. But on this point General Smuts would not give in. ‘That cannot be done,’ said he, ‘as it would be derogatory to Government’s prestige, and I would be unable to carry out the desired reforms. You must understand that Mr. Esselen is our man, and would fall in with, not oppose, the Government’s wished as regards reform. Colonel Wylie is a man of position in Natal and might even be considered anti-Indian. If therefore even he agrees to a repeal of the three pound tax, the Government will have an easy task before them. Our troubles are manyfold; we have not a moment to spare and therefore wish to set the Indian question at rest. We have decided to grant your demands, but for this we must have a recommendation from the commission. I understand your position too. You have solemnly declared that you will not lead evidence before it so long as there is no representative of the Indians sitting on the commission. I do not mind if you do not tender evidence, but you should not organize any active propaganda to prevent anyone who wishes to give evidence from doing so, and should suspend Satyagraha in the interval. I believe that by so doing you will be serving your own interest as well as giving me a respite. As you will not tender evidence, you will not be able to prove your allegations as regards ill-treatment accorded to the Indian strikers. But that is for you to think over.’
Such were the suggestions of General Smuts, which on the whole I was inclined to receive favourably. We had made many complaints about ill-treatment of strikers by soldiers and warders, but the difficulty was that we were precluded by a boycott of the commission from proving our allegations. There was a difference of opinion among the Indians on this point. Some held that the charges leveled by the Indians against the soldiers must be proved, and therefore suggested that if the evidence could not be placed before the commission, we must challenge libel proceedings by publishing the authentic evidence in our possession. I disagreed with these friends. There was little likelihood of the commission giving a decision unfavourable to the Government. Challenging libel proceedings would land the community in endless trouble, and the net result would be barren satisfaction of having proved the charges of ill-treatment. As a barrister, I was well aware of the difficulties of proving the truth of statements giving rise to libel proceedings. But my weightiest argument was, that the Satyagrahi is out to suffer. Even before Satyagraha was started, the Satyagrahis knew that they would have to suffer even unto death, and they were ready to undergo such suffering. Such being the case, there was no sense in proving mow that they did suffer. A spirit of revenge being alien to Satyagraha, it was best for a Satyagrahi to hold his peace when he encountered extraordinary difficulties in proving the fact obnoxious laws should be repealed or suitably amended, and when this was fairly within his grasp, he need not bother himself with other things. Again a Satyagrahi’s silence would at the time of settlement stand him in good stead in his resistance to unjust laws. With such arguments I was able to win over most of these friends who differed from me, and we decided to drop the idea of proving our allegations of ill-treatment.